August 29, 2002


Half a billion Americans?: Demographic forces are pulling America and Europe apart. If the trend goes on, it will fundamentally alter America's position in the world (The Economist, Aug 22nd 2002)
America's census in 2000 contained a shock. The population turned out to be rising faster than anyone had expected when the 1990 census was taken. There are disputes about exactly why this was (more on that shortly). What is not in doubt is that a gap is beginning to open with Europe. America's fertility rate is rising. Europe's is falling. America's immigration outstrips Europe's and its immigrant population is reproducing faster than native-born Americans. America's population will soon be getting younger. Europe's is ageing.

Unless things change substantially, these trends will accelerate over coming decades, driving the two sides of the Atlantic farther apart. By 2040, and possibly earlier, America will overtake Europe in population and will come to look remarkably (and, in many ways, worryingly) different from the Old World.

In 1950, Western Europe was exactly twice as populous as the United States: 304m against 152m. (This article uses the US Census Bureau's definition of "Europe", which includes all countries that were not communist during the cold war. The 15 countries that make up the European Union are a slightly smaller sample: they had a population of 296m in 1950.) Both sides of the Atlantic saw their populations surge during the baby boom, then grow more slowly until the mid-1980s. Even now, Europe's population remains more than 100m larger than America's.

In the 1980s, however, something curious began to happen. American fertility rates-the average number of children a woman can expect to bear in her lifetime-suddenly began to reverse their decline. Between 1960 and 1985, the American fertility rate had fallen faster than Europe's, to 1.8, slightly below European levels and far below the "replacement level" of 2.1 (the rate required to keep the population steady). By the 1990s American fertility had rebounded, rising back to just below the 2.1 mark. [...]

European commissioners are fond of boasting that the European Union (EU) is the largest market in the world. They claim an equal status with the United States in trade negotiations as a result. Some also think that, because of this parity, the euro will one day become an international reserve currency to rival the dollar.

But assume, for a minute, that Americans remain, as they are now, about one-third richer per head than Europeans. The high-series projection implies that America's economy in 2050 would still be more than twice the size of Europe's-and something like that preponderance would still be there even if you assume that by then much of Central and Eastern Europe will have joined the EU. The balance of global economic power would be tilted in fundamental ways. With 400m-550m rich consumers, the American market would surely be even more important to foreign companies than it is today. And if so, American business practices-however they emerge from the current malaise-could become yet more dominant. [...]

The geopolitical impact is fuzzier, but still powerful. At the moment, America's political connections and shared values with Europe are still strong, albeit fraying. But over time, America's ties of family and culture will multiply and strengthen with the main sources of its immigration-Latin America chiefly, but also East and South Asia. As this happens, it is probable that it will also pull American attention further away from Europe. [...]

If Europeans are unwilling to spend what is needed to be full military partners of America now, when 65-year-olds amount to 30% of the working-age population, they will be even less likely to do more in 2050, when the proportion of old people will have doubled. In short, the long-term logic of demography seems likely to entrench America's power and to widen existing transatlantic rifts.

Perhaps none of this is altogether surprising. The contrast between youthful, exuberant, multi-coloured America and ageing, decrepit, inward-looking Europe goes back almost to the foundation of the United States. But demography is making this picture even more true, with long-term consequences for America's economic and military might and quite possibly for the focus of its foreign policy.

If you never read another article we post here, read this one. In a relatively short space it reveals why the Atlantic Century is over, why Europe is through, why the U.S. is an inevitable hegemon, why we don't any longer have common interests with former allies but do with former non-aligned states and may with former foes, why immigration is vital, why abortion kills countries, why Social Welfare systems are timebombs, etc., etc., etc.. As an added benefit, it suggests I'm not as big a crank as I may seem. Posted by Orrin Judd at August 29, 2002 3:58 PM
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